The countryside around Mandalay has so many adventurous escapes for the wanderluster within. Today’s adventures took us to Mingun, Sagaing and finally, Amarapura.
Sat atop a slow boat cruising along the Ayeryawaddy River towards Mingun and watching life on the banks go by, I am reminded of our Nile Cruise in Egypt a couple of years ago. Daily life carries on in the houseboats. In the distance, we see pink river dolphins jumping up and following our course. Our boat is a real “chitty chitty bang bang” and keeps coughing and spluttering and breaking down on us, but we eventually see the unfinished pagoda of a Burmese king rising above the river banks whose name and I cannot remember, and lo and behold, we have arrived. After spending some time wandering the unfinished pagoda, we amble around the market in the vicinity, admiring the art and other bric a brac before making our way to the raison d’etre in Mingun – the world’s largest free standing bell.
There are little kids running around and under the bell, and others taking a big, fat stick and clanging it against the body of the bell, making it reverberate with sound. I am fascinated with them running under the bell, and wondering just how cobwebby and dirty it must be under there…when my husband tells me to crawl under so that he can take a picture of me under this bell. Heart in mouth, I peek under and to my surprise – there are no cobwebs at all!! Only a tonne of graffiti and boy, am I relieved.
Though being a tad bit claustrophobic, and reading somewhere that the bell weighs between 87-90 tonnes, I cant wait to crawl out fast enough and get onto an ox cart back to the boat! This is the funkiest, rickety-est taxi I have ever come across, and it shook my bones to the core but it was a fun way to get to the white pagoda of Mya Thien Dan. And plus, given that it cost 4000 kyats, I figured it was my way of supporting the local trade!
Just before we get onto the boat, we headed to this stunning white pagoda called Mya Thien Dan on the banks of the river. It is quite different from the other pagodas that we have seen so far, and not typical of the ones found in this part of the world.
An hour later, we are back in the car and making our way up to Sagaing. We stop over for a delicious meal of stir fried noodles and chicken at a family run restaurant, before making our way up the intricate hill, dotted with gleaming white pagodas topped with gold and ordinary homes.
Sagaing is where you will find the pink robed nuns that have dedicated their lives to Buddhism, walking around the intricate roads up to various pagodas where they pray.
I must have been a Buddhist in my past life, because I love seeing Buddha Images, and I would not pass up a chance to see pagodas off the beaten track, such as the beautiful U Min Thonze Pagoda with its forty five Buddha images adorned along a crescent.
Before we know it, the day has started to slip away and we are sat in a boat on the Taungthaman Lake, watching the sun set over the stunning teak U-Bein bridge. Our boat cost us 6000 kyats for a one and a half hour sunset tour. This was not pre-arranged and we managed to get a boat on the banks of the lake, but they do fill up pretty fast so be sure to arrive some time before sunset.
The bridge is perhaps the only bridge in the world to be made entirely of teak, serving as a connection from one end of Amarapura to another – where locals traverse from one end during the day en route to work, and back across at the end of the day, headed home.
We float along the lake for a while, and then fascinated by the buzz of activity on the bridge itself, head back to shore and join in the fun. Monks hang out here, chatting to one and all and practicing their English, bathed in the glow of the setting sun.
Snack sellers peddle their wares, crispy bhajias and succulent chicken satays on sticks, the sizzle of hot oil and the smells of roasting meat filling the air, making us very hungry! Locals and tourists alike wander the span of the bridge, mingling, eating and enjoying sundown, a perfect melting pot of daily life in a stunning setting – yet another day in beautiful Myanmar.